Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


California groundwater is an invaluable drought reserve for agricultural farmers. With historically dry conditions affecting the annual water supply, precious groundwater has become one of the last water resources available to growers in the Central Valley. The devastating drought effects have necessitated the use of groundwater to help offset the surface water deprivation, and the increase in groundwater usage has become a source of growing conflict among water users and environmentalists across the state.

In 2014, the California Legislature introduced the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), opening the door to a new era of water management and new challenges for California agriculture. Though the law holds great promise for managing future droughts and preserving the groundwater supply, the new policy lacks thoroughness and direction for many water users and overlying landowners. With the advancement of new monumental groundwater reform comes several much-anticipated hurdles, however, SGMA’s ambiguous language and arbitrary scope of authority will likely create more harm than good for agriculturally-rich areas such as Kern County.

Part II of this Comment provides an overview of the various components contributing to California’s water crisis and illustrates the inherent flaws in today’s water management system. Part III highlights the common law water principles that are in conflict with SGMA, while summarizing California water law. Part IV argues that SGMA should not be enforced until it is reformed, because doing so would infringe California water rights and expose overlying water users to legal liability. Part V presents an economic analysis of the 2015 drought effects for California agriculture and forecasts the damaging impacts that SGMA’s water restrictions will have on the State’s economy and farming sector. Part VI concludes with a summary of how the Act can be revised and implemented in a way that is consistent with California’s traditional common law water principles.